Week of May 11, 2015

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I am only a doctor of law, but I can tell you: That is not good.


Big Data Reaps Big Rewards

Like many Americans, you probably tuned into the 2012 Olympic Games in London. One of the events that garnered a lot of attention was Team Pursuit Cycling in the “Velodrome”. The U.S. women’s team surprised many people when it came out of nowhere to capture the Silver medal. In the months leading up to the Olympics, the women’s team was putting up times during competition and training that would have left them well off the medal podium. In a short amount of time, the team shaved upwards of 5 seconds (which is an eternity in this event) off their mark. How did they do it? According to a documentary premiering on May 16 at the Seattle International Film Festival, the team owes its thanks, in some part, to Datameer, a big data analytics tool. The team began using fitness/sleep trackers, medical devices, and DNA testing to collect mountains of data on how their bodies were responding to training, and different factors in their lives (e.g., diet and sleep). The team then turned to Datameer to help analyze that data and try to identify patterns and inefficiencies in the way the athletes trained or prepared for training. Full disclosure: my wife works for Datameer and, prior to the 2012 Olympics, got to travel to the team’s training facility to help produce this video:

She had a great time at the Velodrome and I can’t wait to see this documentary, demonstrating how “data, not doping” can improve athletic performance. -TOB

Source: How the U.S. Women’s Cycling Team Transformed Itself With Technology”, Tom Taylor, Sports Illustrated (05/14/2015)


Show Her the Money!

On the court, the NBA is in the midst of its most entertaining stretch of the season – the playoffs, and there things are good. Off the court, however, a storm is brewing. In October, the NBA signed a new TV rights deal with ESPN and TNT – $2.7 billion dollars per year (starting in 2016), nearly triple the size of the previous deal, signed in 2007. That should mean sunshine and roses for all involved – after all, the players are guaranteed around 49% of basketball related income (BRI). More money from the TV deal means more money to be divided up by the players. However, the Players’ Union was smoked by the League in the last two rounds of labor negotiations (e.g. prior to the 2011 deal, the players were guaranteed 57% of BRI, and gave back that 8% to save the season) and they are looking to get some of that back, among other concessions. Last summer, the Union selected Michele Roberts, an extremely successful attorney with little sports experience, to be its new executive director. Roberts is the first female head of any major American sport’s players’ union. As she told the players in her pitch to select her: “I bet you can tell I’m a woman. My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.” No wonder she was a near-unanimous selection.

Immediately, Roberts came out swinging – setting the stage for an absolute labor war with Adam Silver, the NBA’s new commissioner, and the owners. Roberts has begun with a PR battle. “The (league has) done a great job promoting the notion that the owners make all the investments and take all of the risks and barely make a dollar … One of the things that I have on my list, that I will absolutely not go to my grave until I correct, is responding to that narrative.” She has a point: The value of NBA franchises has soared recently. Just six years ago, the New Jersey Nets were purchased for $365 million. They are presently valued at $1.5 billion, and would likely sell for over $2 billion on the open market. Pretty good ROI.

But Roberts’ job is not an easy one and her biggest problem may arise from within her own ranks. Although she has enlisted the help of stars LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, NBA players have little incentive to pass up the kind of money that a work stoppage requires. “The problem is that basketball players have an average career of four years and an average salary of $5 million per year,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. “Given that and given that these guys love to play basketball, they don’t really have the basis to stay unified for a substantial period of time. They’re saying, ‘You want me to risk half a season so my salary could go from $5.1 million to $5.2 million?’ That’s going to be Michele Roberts’s main challenge.”

I have been on the union’s side in sports labor fights since the first one I can remember – the 1994 baseball strike. As Roberts points out, “It’s mind-boggling to me that people think that the players make too much. There would be no money if not for the players. Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money. If not for the players. They create the game.” Good luck, Michele. You’re going to need it -TOB

Source: Outside Shooter”, Max Chafkin, The Atlantic (May 2015)

PAL: Roberts is right, but Zimbalist is more right. While owners have nothing to do with what I like most about the sport – a LeBron chase-down block, a Steph Curry 3 from 29 feet, Paul Pierce going to the well one last time – the stars aren’t the players most impacted by rev share. It’s not about the difference between $20M and $25M; it’s about the difference between $3M and $4M. Are aging, financially set stars whose main concern is their legacy on the court really going to give up a season for the seventh man in the rotation?


NBA Draft Reform

Tanking for draft position has been around for a long time. Way back in 1985, the NBA instituted the Draft Lottery to discourage teams from tanking for the opportunity to draft Patrick Ewing. The lottery has been in place, with some variations, ever since. In recent years, there have ever-growing calls for reform, to remove the incentive to tank. The fact is, tanking remains the best way for a bad team to get better, and as long as that is true, bad teams will have incentive to be even worse than they are. One proposed solution is known as “the wheel” sets draft order based on a rotating schedule, known years in advance. I hate this idea – because while tanking is disheartening as a fan, it at least offers hope. If your team is bad and you don’t have the hope of a high draft pick, following your team is the not fun.

Enter the “You’re the Worst” Plan, as proposed in this article. In short, before a season, teams would select, in reverse order of their finish from the previous season, the team they think will have the worst record the following season. In the draft the following summer, you would then have that team’s draft position (teams could not pick themselves). For example, the Timberwolves had the worst record in the NBA this season. They’d pick first. If they think the Sixers will have the worst record next year, they’d take the Sixers. If the Sixers had the third worst record next season, then the Timberwolves would draft third.

There would still be some incentive to tank, because it would give you an earlier pick to select the worst team, but the reward is far less immediate and far less concrete. After all, a team could end up being a lot better than you hoped. Plus, the possibility of bad blood between teams would be fantastic, and the selection process would make for amazing television. I’m in! -TOB

Source: The NBA Draft Is Broken: Here’s How to Fix It”, Seth Stevenson, Slate (05/13/2015)

PAL:  A list of #1 draft picks since 1999 (I’ve italicized the ones I think have proven to be franchise players):

  • 1999: Elton Brand
  • 2000: Kenyon Martin
  • 2001: Kwame Brown
  • 2002: Yao Ming
  • 2003: LeBron James
  • 2004: Dwight Howard
  • 2005: Andrew Bogut
  • 2006: Andrea Bargnani
  • 2007: Greg Oden
  • 2008: Derrick Rose
  • 2009: Blake Griffin
  • 2010: John Wall
  • 2011: Kyrie Irving
  • 2012: Anthony Davis
  • 2013: Anthony Bennett
  • 2014: Andrew Wiggins (TBD)

All involved have been happy with the results of 5/16. Let’s be honest – I’ll take a 31% chance at LeBron, Anthony Davis, or even Blake Griffin. In that same 16 years, six teams have won NBA Championships: Spurs (Duncan), Lakers (Kobe), Pistons, Heat (Wade + Shaq/LeBron), Dallas (Dirk), and Celtics. The Pistons, Celtics, and the Heat (Shaq and LeBron pairing with Wade) did it with free agents as cornerstones of the team. It’s cheaper to draft greatness, but ultimate success is still a crap shoot. I get why the Sixers are tanking (now in its third year?), but there’s a shelf life and a limited amount of patience, and I think the team has less than one year to start showing some flashes of improvement. All of this is to say that, of all the proposed changes to the lottery, I think I like the true lottery option the best. Every team that doesn’t make the playoffs gets the same odds of winning the first pick in the next draft.


Jered Weaver: Total Killjoy

Jered Weaver sucks. I know because I have him in a fantasy keeper league. He’s got enough of a name that I don’t want to outright drop him, but he has zero trade value. After getting rocked in just about every start this season, I benched him for his start against the then-hot Houston Astros last weekend. Of course, he threw a complete game shutout and had the most K’s he’s had in you a game all season. Dillhole. So how does this guy celebrate?

By getting legitimately angry at his teammates who were just having a little fun. Look at that stare at the 1:03 mark! And how he ends the interview like a petulant child! Man, what a fun teammate he must be. Stupid Jered Weaver. -TOB

Source: Weaver on Shutout, Gets Doused”, MLB.com (05/08/2015)

PAL: Sounds like someone’s got his panties in a bunch over fantasy sports. I couldn’t disagree with you more on this, TOB. First of all, let’s just chill out on the Gatorade showers. Also about just a pinch of “act like you’ve been there” for a shutout…in May on a team that’s currently .500. I guarantee you Pujols and other veterans sided with Weaver. What’s more, I honestly think Weaver handles the situation really well. He rolls with the hack move Gatorade dousing, but throwing what I assume is a bag of sunflower seeds at him on top of that is: (A) not funny or entertaining, (B) overkill after the dousing, and (C) an aggressive, dick 12 year-old move. Weaver takes a moment to gather himself (the camera zoom doesn’t help here), gives a polite, canned answer to get out of the interview, and ducks down into the clubhouse where he can light into some idiot for acting like a moron.


Has King James Left the Building?

For around a decade, LeBron James has been the best basketball player on the planet. He led the Miami Heat to four straight NBA Finals, winning two, before returning to Cleveland last summer. When he returned, though, something seemed off. Was it the hair plugs? Well, yes, those looked odd. But LeBron didn’t seem as explosive. He was more content to take jump shots than to get to the rim. He seemed less aggressive, less focused. People openly questioned if he was finally on the decline. Now, with the regular season behind us, we can evaluate – did LeBron’s game change? As it turns out, it did. Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry uses statistical analysis (noticing a trend?) to show that LeBron did shoot more jumpers this year and did attack the rim less. Is he in decline? Or was it a one-year blip? And where does his game go from here? -TOB

Source: The King’s Burden: Saving the Cavs Has Changed LeBron James”, Kirk Goldsberry, Grantland (05/13/2015)

PAL: “One of the most interesting things about superstars is watching them change their games in the face of decreasing athleticism. It’s the most human thing about them.” As Goldsberry captures in this piece, it’s fascinating to watch a supreme athlete be so open to evolving his game. Fascinating – yes – but it will never be better than watching a guy at his peak. Also, carve out 8 minutes and watch the video of LeBron working on post moves with Hakeem. Hakeem still has it in his fifties. That’s one graceful big dude.


Video of the Week

In honor of Corey Kluber’s ridiculous 8-inning, 18-strikeout, 0-walk, 1-hitter this week, check out the above video of young Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game against the Astros in 1998. Filthy. Nasty. And that ‘Stros lineup was legit!


“I bet you can tell I’m a woman. My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

-Michele Roberts

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Week of October 13, 2014

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When the Greatest Basketball Player on Earth Went to Alcatraz

Phil’s alma mater, the University of San Francisco Dons, won two NCAA national championships in men’s basketball in the 1950’s, led by future NBA hall of famers Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. It’s pretty remarkable to think about now, and it would have been fun to be living here when they were dominating from their tiny school that did not even have its own gym at the time. If they made a tourney run now, you’re damn right I’d jump on that bandwagon. Well, back in the 1950’s, the inmates at Alcatraz felt the same way. The Dons had a lot of fans on The Rock, and when the inmates asked the prison chaplain, who doubled as a professor at USF, if he could bring some of the players to meet them, he was happy to oblige. The players were welcomed like conquering heroes, and all seem to look back on it fondly. This is a pretty cool story, made even more interesting because it had been previously unreported, nearly 60 years later. -TOB

Source:”Bill Russell, KC Jones Treated Like “Rock” Stars at Alcatraz”, by Baxter Holmes, Boston Globe (10/11/14)


The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!

I’m writing this less than two hours after the Giants finished off the Cardinals to win their third National League pennant in five years. So with that in mind, I say: Baseball is friggin great. But, baseball has a lot of detractors: People say the games last too long, despite being shorter than football. Others say the games are too slow/boring. Well, as my good friend Ryan Rowe once said, “Baseball is a thinking man’s game. I wouldn’t expect you to understand it.” I think the biggest criticism of baseball that I actually agree with is the claim that it is too regional. Here’s the thing about baseball: When your favorite baseball team is good, the summer zooms by. No matter what else happens, you have your baseball team to look forward to at the end of the day. Because they play every day for six months, you really start to feel a part of the team. Unlike football, where a deep playoff run is just two or three games, in a deep baseball playoff run, your team plays almost every day for a month. Every pitch brings anxiety, but it’s the good kind of anxiety. Your liver is about the only thing in town not having a great time. But I get it – if your team sucks, the season is unbearable. When the Giants weren’t in the playoffs last year, I could barely drag myself to watch. That is not true for me with basketball and football. And I love baseball! But this postseason has been especially dramatic. Here, Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal discusses baseball’s problems, but argues that the only cure baseball needs is the postseason. Thankfully, that comes around every October. -TOB

Source: Baseball Makes Its Dramatic Case”, by Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal (10/06/14)


For the Last Time This Month, I Give Props to a Royals Pitcher

One of the coolest/weirdest things about Twitter, is how it puts us in touch with celebrities/athletes/politicians/etc. that until this point in history, we had no chance of being in contact with. It’s pretty cool when you tweet at a famous person and they reply. It’s also pretty weird. This is a great little snapshot into the coolness/weirdness of these interactions. A Kansas City Royals fan jokingly (?) tweets at a Royals pitcher, saying he’s too broke to buy tickets to the ALCS, but really wants to bring his girlfriend. Surprisingly, the pitcher, Brandon Finnegan, actually replies. And hooks the dude up with two tickets. And – he may have also treated him to dinner? What a cool/weird time we live in. And a tip of the cap to Brandon Finnegan – good lookin’ out! Of course, now that you’re facing the Giants in the World Series: Die like a dog. -TOB

Source: “Royals Pitcher Gives Playoff Tickets to Broke Dude on Twitter“, Tom Ley, Deadspin (10/14/14)


You Play for Cleveland, LeBron. Remember?

This is a short and admittedly insignificant story, but I find myself coming back to it. LeBron James, while playing against Miami Heat in a pre-season game, appeared to set a pick against the wrong team. After 4 years playing for Miami, I can understand the brief mental lapse, yet he denies that’s what happened. Compared to LeBron James, I know nothing about basketball, but I’ve watched the video 10 times now, and he absolutely sets a pick for the wrong team. Why does LeBron lie about something as insignificant as a pick in a pre-season game? Just goes to show you – never trust the Cowboy/Yankee fan combo (LeBron is one of these folks). -PAL

Source: LeBron Denies Forgetting Which Team He Plays For Now”; by Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (10/16/14)

-TOB Note: I’m siding with LeBron.


Sumo School Keeps Calligraphy Alive 

This is largely a photo story, but it’s too good to keep from you. Sumo school curriculum includes history of sumo (obviously), sports medicine (makes sense, but don’t they have trainers for that?), biology (um), traditional singing (I want to go there), and Japanese calligraphy (click on the link already, folks). This all takes place in what looks like a second grade classroom. I repeat, massive sumo apprentices go to class (shirtless, for some reason) for 6 months to paint calligraphy, sing songs, and drill the differences between meiosis and mitosis. No wonder Japan is kicking our ass in the classroom – our athletes don’t go to class while their athletes are learning calligraphy. -PAL

Source: “Sumo School is a Magical Place”; Brian Ashcraft, Kotaku (10/14/14)


Video of the Week

Usually we only do one video of the week, but this week we could not help it. We present you with the following:

1. Hockey fan from Columbus, pretty much summing up my stereotypes about both hockey fans and people from Columbus.

2. Fox Deportes with an EPIC call of Ishikawa’s walk-off homer to deliver the Giants the pennant (no embed available)

http://deadspin.com/giants-win-the-pennant-on-travis-ishikawa-walk-off-home-1647464716

3. Classic brother-on-brother sports-related pain. In slow-mo!


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Twitter: @123sportsnews


QUOTE

“We got no food, we got no jobs, our pets heads are falling off!”

-Lloyd Christmas


 P.S.

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Not a bad Thursday night.

Week of July 14, 2014

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Summiting Everest: Money is a deadly thing.  

An examination of the world of Everest sherpas on. Everest had its most tragic day this year (16 sherpas died in a avalanche of massive proportion, even for Everest), which threatened to shut down the industry for the season. The entire culture up there at high base camp, with expeditions costing as much as $100K, and the sherpas earning relatively little, has created a precarious situation for such a high risk adventure. – PAL

Source: “Climbers Leave Everest Amid Regrets and Tensions Among Sherpas”, Bhadra Sharma & Ellen Barry, The New York Times (4/24/14)

Supplemental – A trailer for an excellent documentary I saw earlier this year about the growing tension: http://vimeo.com/78597417


Back to Back to Back to…Gone?

If you’re a sports fan, you’re familiar with Tom Emanski and his instructional baseball videos. “Back to back to back AAU National Champions!” The throw from center into the trashcan at home plate. And, of course, Fred McGriff, in a goofy hat, lending his endorsement. I must have seen those commercials a thousand times. The images, and the name, are burned in my memory. But I knew nothing about Tom Emanski, the man. Where’d he come from? How did he get into the business? How DID he get a big league slugger like Fred McGriff to make a fool of himself in a commercial (I was a bit surprised on that one)? And more importantly – where is he now? Fox Sports kicked off its Grantland competitor, “Just a Bit Outside”, this week with a bang – including this fascinating read. -TOB

Source: “Pitchman: How Tom Emanski Changed the Sport of Baseball – and Then Disappeared”, Erik Malinowski, Just a Bit Outside (07/17/14)

Note: There are some of you who might not know about Tom Emanski, but there is a large chunk of us (20-32 years-old), that have these instructional video commercials burned into our being. Yet another example of how nerds rule the world. Bonus: I never noticed that the iconic throw from the outfield into the garbage can bounces THREE times, and once on the mound..couldn’t they have used a kid with a better arm for this? – PAL


Home.

As we all know, LeBron announced his return to Cleveland last Friday in a well-written piece for Sports Illustrated. Since then, far too many words have been written about his decision. I read a lot of them, so you didn’t have to. This was my favorite. -TOB

Source: “The Long Game”, Seerat Sohi, Sports on Earth (07/14/14)

Note: 1) This notion that an athlete owes anything to a place is absurd. LeBron didn’t owe Cleveland/Ohio anything when he left, and he didn’t owe them anything when he considered the eventual return. Let’s say this mega-hyped high schooler is a bust – would the Cleveland Cavaliers owe him a second contract because LeBron is from Ohio? 2) I’ll buy a beer for any 1-2-3 Sports! follower who can make a legit argument that any athlete in the past 25 years had more power than LeBron James has now with the Cavaliers (yes, including Jordan). David Griffin, the GM of the Cavs (hired on May 14) may as well have “Assistant to the Traveling Secretary” on his business cards. – PAL


Deion Sanders’ charter “schools” were a mess from the beginning.

You ever heard of Emmanuel Mudiay? Probably not, but he’s listed as one of  the best (if not the best) high school basketball prospects from the 2014 class. He’s not going to Kentucky. He’s not going to Duke. He’s not going to UNC. He’s going to Europe, and he’s going because his high school was a joke (through little fault of his own). Deion Sanders’ Prime Prep schools were a disorganized mess intended on bringing in the best athletes from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. The only problem – aside from some shady financial records – is that the school failed to comply with Texas Education Codes. In other words, the athletes the school recruited are unlikely to be eligible for college athletics. And that’s why Emmanuel Mudiay is going to Europe to play ball. Great work with the kids, Deion. – PAL

Source: “Deion Sanders’s Disaster Of A School Is Being Shut Down”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (7/16/14)


Chuck Taylor: International Man of Mystery

Like the aforementioned Tom Emanski story, this is another story about a guy with a familiar name, but not a very familiar story. This story (available in text and audio) is about Chuck Taylor, whose signature shoe, the Converse All-Star, has remained fashionable over many generations. -TOB

Source: “Meet Chuck Taylor: The Man Behind the All-Star”, Doug Tribou, Only a Game (07/12/14, originally aired/posted 11/02/13)

Note: Favorite factoid from this story: Nike acquired Converse in 2003 and sold 2 million pairs of the Chuck Taylor All-Stars. The 2011 figure: 70 million. Nike knows how to market shoes. – PAL


123 Q&A

Q: “It looks like there’s some sort of movement for the San Francisco Giants to retire Will Clark’s number. Believe me, I love Will Clark more than any player ever, but for some reason it’s not a no-brainer for me. He was really good with some strokes of greatness, but should teams retire players’ numbers just because we really liked them?” – Thrilled by Will, aka R. Rowe, San Francisco

A (TOB): Excellent question, Thrilled. Will Clark was an instant fan favorite in San Francisco. On the first at-bat of his career, he a hit a home run off in-his-prime Nolan Ryan. Before I dig deeper into his career, let me say this – my impression of Will is that he’s not a Hall-of-Famer, and Baseball Reference’s Hall of Fame Predictor backs that up – but he was actually better than I thought. I thought that Will Clark’s career started out with a bang, and petered out a bit after he left San Francisco. A look at the numbers, though, shows something a little different.

Clark was a career .303 hitter over 15 seasons. The bulk of those were with the Giants and Rangers. In eight seasons with the Giants, he hit .299/.373/.499. In five seasons with the Ranger, he hit .308/.395/.485. Not a significant difference (and his slugging took a little dip) – but it does show some bias on my part. Once he left the Giants, he was more or less out of my consciousness, but actually got a smidge better, and he was actually an incredibly consistent hitter throughout his career. Unfortunately for Will, the middle of his career coincided with the earnest beginning of the Steroid Era – and while Will’s numbers were still very good, they didn’t look as good in an era of bloated offense. To illustrate that – Will made five All-Star teams and finished in the top five of MVP voting four times (including a second place finish) in his eight seasons in San Francisco. After leaving San Francisco, though, he made one All-Star team and never again finished in the MVP top ten, despite having basically the same numbers he had in San Francisco.

Does his remarkable consistency, over a long period of time, give him some boost? Probably. But while that might make him closer to a Hall-of-Famer than I thought, we can’t really look at his time after leaving San Francisco to determine whether the Giants should retire his number.

As noted above, his resume with the Giants is even better than I thought – the four top five MVP finishes is pretty fantastic. The relatively short tenure is troublesome. However, there is some precedent. The Giants retired Monte Irvin’s number (he played just seven of his eight major league seasons with the Giants, all in New York), Orlando Cepeda’s number (he played just nine of his sixteen career seasons with the Giants), and Gaylord Perry’s number (he played just ten of his career twenty-two career seasons with the Giants). Of course, all three of those guys are Hall-of-Famers (despite just eight major league seasons, Irvin played many outstanding years in the Negro Leagues before breaking into the majors).

When I first read your question, my gut reaction was that Will’s number should not be retired. After checking out his numbers, though, and comparing his short tenure with the Giants to other Giants players who have had their numbers retired, I am leaning toward yes.

But there’s one last aspect to this – from all accounts, Will Clark was a dick. And I think that counts, especially in a close case. A few weeks ago, we linked to a first hand account, from a former batboy for the San Diego Padres, about how great Tony Gwynn was. Buried in that story was an anecdote about Will Clark – one day, one of the batboys was wearing an earring, and Will Clark walked by during batting practice and sneered, “Nice earring, f-ggot.” Yikes. If this were a one-off story, it’d be easy to ignore. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard that Will Clark was a less than stellar guy. I interned right after college at KNBR – and an old-timer there told me that Will Clark was racist, and that his racism caused major issues between Will and Barry Bonds in their lone season together on the Giants, which is one of the reasons why the Giants let Will walk.

How does his reportedly less than stellar character play into whether or not the Giants should retire his number? I think it should quite a bit – and in an otherwise very close call, his character issues tip the scales against retiring his number, in my opinion. But if I had to guess, I’d say the Giants will eventually do it. After all, they’ve already welcomed Will back as a team “Ambassador” – essentially he gets paid to hang around the ballpark and greet fans. I’m guessing the retired number is next.

PAL: First of all, what is this – Dear Abby? “Excellent question, Thrilled?” And this dude referred to himself as “Thrilled by Will”…What has happened to this post? Retiring a number doesn’t have to be about numbers and a HOF career. This is why I love this question. Tommy is much better and analyzing the numbers of players than I am, and he’s almost won more than a few debates based off of the numbers. But a retired number is about the relationship between a player and place. It’s gut instinct informed by a casserole of factors. You have an immediate reaction when I ask whether or not Clark’s number should be retired, and in that reaction lies your answer. This is one of those instance where your first instinct is right.

As a Minnesota guy, I know Kent Hrbek is not a Hall of Fame player (less than 300 HRs, career average in the .280’s), but there’s no doubt in my mind #14 is rightfully retired. Untangling all the factors as to why or why not leads you further and further away from the answer: because he was one of our guys. Baseball can be so objective these days…isn’t it nice for something just to remain a feeling?


Video of the Week


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“Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger…and one large fry.”

– Tim Fisher (inspired by SNL)

Week of June 9, 2014

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Argentina needs Messi, but do they want him?

Lionel Messi left his home in Argentina when he was 13 for pretty understandable reasons – one of the best clubs in Europe wanted him (FC Barcelona), and they would provide the medical treatments he needed (he had a growth-hormone deficiency). Yet, even as Messi is widely considered one of the best players ever, Argentineans have a surprisingly complicated relationship with their star. They don’t completely see him as one of their own. “We’ve always liked how Messi plays,” the driver, Dario Torrisi, told me, “but we don’t know who he is.” This story does a great job exploring what “home” means in the context of the world’s most popular game. -PAL

Source: “The Burden of Being Messi”; by Jeff Himmelman; The New York Times (6/5/14)

TOB: I visited Argentina about a month before the 2010 World Cup, as Messi was tearing up the Champions League. I can say that Argentina was pretty bonkers for him. The media narrative right now seems to be that Messi is not loved in Argentina (though the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine argues that, while this is true for those old enough to have lived through the 1986 World Cup, the younger generation loves Messi and finds Maradona rather abhorrent). He’s a quiet guy – he’s not bombastic. He has struggled, comparatively speaking, on the national team. He’s not Maradona. This is all true. But he’s amazing to watch, and some of his national team struggles can be pinned on a coach who had no idea how to use him (and had no business being coach *coughMaradonacough*). I think this is his time – and I think Argentina should go deep into this World Cup, with Messi leading the way.  


The Times, They Are a-Changin’

I can’t watch college football anymore without feeling a twinge of guilt, though I still do. In fact, I’m a season ticket holder.  But a tidal wave of change is preparing to hit American college sports. We might not know yet when exactly it will arrive and what it will leave in its wake, but it is coming. The debate on whether to pay college football players seems to be approaching a cultural tipping point (with Title IX implications of paying players threatening to leave college sports completely unrecognizable). The myth of amateurism has never rung so hollow. Making matters even worse is the fact that universities nationwide are facing budget reductions, as state legislatures have been cutting back on higher education funding for years (California, my home state, chief among them). And while public university budgets are being slashed, with those costs being passed on to students, universities across the country continue to subsidize their athletics programs with millions of dollars per year. So it was with some pride that I read this article, about how my alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, has attempted to eliminate its athletic subsidy. In a few years, Cal has reduced its athletic subsidy from $12.1 million in 2010, to $3.2 million in 2013. The job is not done, but Cal has set a model that other schools should look toward. TOB

Source: “Cal Finds Little Company in Push to Cut Subsidies”; by Steve Berkowitz, Christopher Schaars, and Jodi Upton, USA Today (06/05/2014)

PAL: About a week ago I texted Tommy to give him crap. I’d heard the football field at Memorial Stadium (Cal’s football stadium) referred to as “Kabam Field” on the local sports radio station. Cal had struck a deal with a mobile game maker. “How lame,” I thought, as I grabbed for my phone. In fact, it’s not lame at all. Aside from the fact no one will ever, ever, ever refer to the field as “Kabam Field” in any normal conversation, Cal stands to earn $18 million over 15 years. Among other things, that money will be used to help finance the stadium renovations and student-athlete center (you can find the breakdown here). Lame? No. More like common sense.


A Million Dollars a Year on Fantasy Sports? What the Hell?

You ever win a fantasy league? I have. A few times. The gratification is short-lived, but I still feel pride in each of those wins, and aggravation for the losses. Months of work and hours pouring over stats often come down to something as stupid as 3 blocked shots in 5 minutes by a point guard who had 3 blocked shots the entire season before that, costing you the title (this actually happened to me). But what if the season didn’t take months, but occurred in the course of one night? And what if you bet money on that “season”? And what if you played thousands of “seasons” per night? You’ve just entered the world of Cory Albertson, a business school student at Notre Dame, who has turned fantasy sports into a science – and expects to make $1 million dollars this year on fantasy sports. Yes, one million. On fantasy sports. -TOB

Source: “A Fantasy Sports Wizard’s Winning Formula”; by Brad Reagan, Wall Street Journal (06/04/14)

PAL: When something  conceived as a game then becomes a business, there will be gap when it’s ripe for the taking. Fantasy sports hedge fund? I have some buddies who will no doubt contribute to this dude’s next vacation estate. Also, did you notice TOB mentioned he’s won a fantasy league a few times?


This is the perfect story if you don’t love (or “get”) hockey.

I grew up playing the sport in Minnesota. It’s a great game. Fun to play, fun to watch in person, and it features incredible athletes. Aside from a little San Jose Sharks fever once every couple of years, there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out here in California, even when two of the best teams play out here (it pains me to write that). Here’s a cool story breaking down a seemingly tiny, momentary element of the game – the faceoff. Like a jump ball in basketball, it determines possession; however, unlike in basketball, faceoffs happen dozens of times in a game where scoring is much harder to come by. What makes a player a great faceoff guy? Quick hands, researching the tendencies of the refs, and of course the willingness to headbutt your opponent. -PAL

Source: “Controlling the Faceoff is Critical to the Game of Hockey”; by David Wharton, Los Angeles Times (6/11/14)


No Respect At All.

As I write this, the Heat just lost by 21 points on their home floor in Game 4, and the Spurs have taken a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. That the Spurs are winning should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been watching the NBA closely this year. The Heat are talented but old, and the Spurs are incredible, and have mostly torn through these playoffs. What continues to amaze me, though, is that LeBron James does not get the respect he deserves. “He’s not Jordan.” Yeah, and? No one is. “He abandoned Cleveland on national TV.” A mistake, to be sure. But why has LeBron not been forgiven? The guy has won two NBA titles and and made 5 NBA Finals. He’s the greatest player of his generation, and the ultimate team player. He works hard on defense, unlike many star players, and he shares the ball like Magic Johnson. Every bit of respect seems to be given grudgingly, and every time he does fail, people seem to relish it. Why? -TOB

Source: “LeBron James Has Earned More Respect Than He’s Given”; by Vincent Goodwill, The Detroit News (06/08/14)

PAL: I typically deplore when people play this card, but here I go: Magic and Michael didn’t play in the era of Twitter and 24-hour sports channels. Every sports story (and every news story for that matter) is reported on 10 percent of the time, then analyzed, editorialized, and debated the other 90 percent of the time. Stories are then made out of the opinions expressed about the original news story. This is why I can’t watch ESPN anymore (they aren’t the only guilty party, but definitely the most insufferable). LeBron was/is the most popular athlete when this media pivot took place. It’s not fair, but it makes sense.


Video of the Week Baseball players are the best.    

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“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?” – Max Fischer

Week of May 11, 2014

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Where Have All the Aces Gone? Gone to Dr. James Andrews, Every One. Source: Michael Baumann, An Elbow Injury for Jose Fernandez, and Surgery for Baseball Fans’ Broken Hearts; Grantland (05/13/14); Earlier this week, news broke that the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez would likely undergo Tommy John surgery, and is thus unlikely to return to pitching until 2016. That is so far away that, by that point, flying cars and hover boards will be ubiquitous. Fernandez joins a long list of young, exciting pitchers who have been lost to Tommy John surgery since the start of 2013. What the hell is going on? -TOB

Further Reading: Tom Ley, “Jose Fernandez Is Hurt, And We Aren’t Allowed to Love Anymore,” Deadspin.com (05/13/14); Tom Verducci, “As Fernandez Goes Down, Here’s a Solution to Arm Injury Epidemic” (05/13/14); Tom Verducci, “How Tiny Tim Became a Pitching Giants,” Sports Illustrated (07/07/08).

PAL Note: Grantland needs to pump its breaks on the metaphors –  “…[C]omposed variations on the ‘slow, with late break’ theme the way Mozart might have written a suite for a woodwind quartet…” Easy, fellas. 


Was Mark Jackson Fired Because of His Race? Yes. And No. Source: Marcus Thompson, “Warriors, Mark Jackson, and the Question of Race”; San Jose Mercury News (05/08/14); The SJ Merc’s Marcus Thompson explores the reasons that the Warriors fired Mark Jackson. Was race involved? Kinda. -TOB

Further Reading: David Aldridge, “Split Between Jackson, Warriors a Complicated, Messy Affair”; NBA.com (05/12/14)

PAL Note: The Tom Thibodeau comp is the most intriguing (Thibs – great defense + suspect offense = great coach; Jackson – great shooters + improved defense = motivator).


Yasiel Puig’s defection from Cuba is way more incredible than his arm. Source: Jesse Katz,“Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodger”; Los Angeles Magazine (4/13/13); Murder, informants, drug cartels, and a whole lot of dirty money at stake. Defecting from Cuba doesn’t end when someone like Yasiel Puig puts on an MLB uniform. Whether you love him or hate him, his story is extraordinary. – PAL


The World Cup in Brazil could prove to be a really, really bad idea. Source: James Masters, “World Cup 2014: Can the FBI help stop Brazil’s World Cup protesters?; CNN (5/13/14) For all we know this could be your typical, “there will be some real problems” story like the ones we saw leading up to  Sochi or the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. However, there is ongoing unrest throughout Brazil, and large-scale protests have turned violent over the government spending billions of dollars in the midst of a very fragile economic period. The Confederations Cup (essentially a warm-up tournament for the World Cup) was a mess with protests, and let’s not forget where the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held. -PAL

TOB Note: A good roundup of the potential issues in Brazil this summer, with some truly great/haunting images. Also, this terrifying warning from police.


Like the Goonies, The Spurs Will Never Die Source: Louisa Thomas, “Pop Culture: What We Talk About When We Talk About the Spurs”; Grantland (05/12/14) In the early aughts, the Spurs were boring. It seemed like their run had finally ended in 2011, when the #1 seed Spurs were destroyed by the #8 seed Grizzlies in 6 games. But then a funny thing happened: The Spurs kept their core, replaced the spare pieces, and got…better. In 2013, they came about as close as you can to winning a title without doing so. This year, I am rooting for them. They are once again the West’s #1 seed. They just destroyed the Trailblazers, with an average margin of victory of nearly 20 points, and look primed for a return to the Finals. The Spurs will not die. Long live the Spurs. – TOB


QUICK HIT: LeBron Putting Michael Jordan Into Perspective Source: Tim McGarry, USA Today (05/13/14)

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“Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself.”

 

– Eric Matthews/Plays With Squirrels